Social Networking: The double-edged sword of maintaining an online presence

Exploring the new frontier

I’m writing this post whilst watching my Windows Home Server slowly copy data onto an external drive. I mention that not because of its pertinence, but to indicate why I found myself having time to join Facebook.

The other reason was the excellent session given by Eileen Brown at our most recent event. After Eileen had finished admonishing me for not taking my online presence (and therefore reputation) seriously enough I took the step of installing the Twitter Notify plugin for Live Writer so I could connect two of my online personas together.

But that wasn’t enough. I’ve had an online profile on LinkedIn for some time now, which I find very useful for business contacts. Ping.fm offered a very useful service of allowing effective cross-posting of status updates between my online services, so I signed up (on Elaine’s most excellent advice) and could then amplify the volume of my random thoughts across multiple networks.

Perhaps foolishly, however, I didn’t stop there. I now have a Facebook profile. This has turned out to be almost my making and undoing, all at once. Suddenly I can see why people I know lose hours of their lives hooked into their online circle of friends. At the same time though, there are so many people out their on Facebook that I haven’t seen or spoken to in years and suddenly I have a mechanism which allows me to reconnect with them (with varying degrees of passive- or activeness, depending on both sides’ level of enthusiasm).

The Twitter Notify plugin has now been replaced by xPollinate – a Ping.fm plugin for Live Writer. Once more, projecting my voice across the vastness of cyberspace.

And now I find myself wondering whether I’ve done the right thing. The cat is most forcefully out of the bag and no amount of persuasion will force it back in. I must now engage with these networks, spending time which I’m not certain I have commenting and posting and updating or my online personas will wither and die and fall back into the ocean of neglected accounts, blogs and other internet detritus.

I remember when this was all fields

Sadly, I really am old enough to remember the internet before the web. I’m old enough to remember Compuserve being the big online realm. When I was an undergraduate at University, suddenly email was a fantastic way of communicating with my friends at other Universities – all connected to JANET (the UK Joint Academic Network, which itself connected to the Internet).

Back then we couldn’t share much. Sure, you could attach things to emails, but you didn’t have much space in your mailbox and, frankly, there wasn’t much to send. We bounced messages back and forth to arrange meetings and social gatherings, and it was an invaluable tool for coursework!

Whilst we had USENET (internet news groups, for those who haven’t encountered them) to allow online discussion, we didn’t have anything like the Blogs of today, which offer anybody a platform from which to voice their opinions.

The web, when it came, was exciting and fresh. Where I worked, at the University of Bradford, we had one of the first web sites in the UK, thanks to the enthusiasm of my colleagues in the Computer Centre. Over time, academics embraced the new tool as a way to push academic content out to their students.

Certainly, you could lose hours of your life to these things,  but there wasn’t the necessity to post stuff because, frankly, the internet wasn’t very big and most of the people on it were academics at other Universities.

The power of the web to promote yourself became apparent when I began to be involved in creating content for the web at the University. At that time, many of the sources of knowledge I was learning from were influential bloggers – using the new medium to put forward their ideas on how the web should be built. Many of them are still around today, but interestingly, many do not post with the frequency that they used to.

The trap of influence

It seems that the more you post, providing what you have to say is not complete rubbish, then the more people ask you to post more. I have seen many people for whom I have the utmost respect slowly fade away, citing pressures of time or growing workload. The problem is, our online voice is what builds our reputation and if we silence that voice our reputation fades along with it.

This is a conundrum for me. Frankly, I don’t post enough, either to this blog or any of my other online personas. I’d like to post more; I have lots to say (and some of it is more pertinent than this current stream of consciousness). In order to help build the reputation of Black Marble, I need to post more about the cool stuff we do and the great things we achieve as a company. The problem is, I also have a wife, and a life outside what I do for a living (which is already tightly combined with most of my hobbies and interests). How much of my time must I devote to activities connected to my work, even if some of those activities merge into my personal life (like Facebook) or are simply fun?

Passive Engagement

Interestingly, Twitter really has connected me more with some of my friends. Nick Smith, a man for whom I have only respect, persuaded me during the last @Media conference in London last year that Twitter was a great way of keeping in contact with people. The most interesting thing about his argument was that it was an almost entirely passive means of communication, by which he meant that I could listen to his stream of tweets and thereby know what he was up to and choose to comment if I wished.

If you think about it, that’s pretty revelatory. I can’t think of any other means of keeping in touch which doesn’t involve effort from both parties, or risk upset if only one side makes an effort (such as letter writing, at which I was always appalling). To me, Twitter is a great informer, keeping me abreast of what my friends are doing, however remote.

Facebook, by way of contrast, would seem to be something that is almost more demanding of my time and commitment than any of the pre-internet communication channels we had (telephone, letter, meeting down the pub), and provides such a rapid stream of communication with a hugely varying signal-to-noise ratio that I’m struggling to keep up already…

No answers, only questions…

I have no panacea for this. To be honest, this post is more an open question to anybody who reads my blog or notices my twittering or has found me on Facebook or LinkedIn: How do you do it? What advice can we offer one another in coping with the deluge of information of modern life and striking the balance between the demands of maintaining our online profile and enjoying the time with the friends it connects us to? Am I making a point which strikes a chord, or am I talking rubbish? You decide. Deluge my Facebook profile with comments; I can only try to keep up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *